Refining the Retail Experience

Retail operations make up a significant portion of the foodservice business on many college campuses. Three veteran foodservice directors offer advice on how to make retail more profitable.

As college dining operations face increased pressure to produce profits while simultaneously cutting costs, more foodservice directors are turning to the retail segment to more efficiently achieve those goals. On some campuses, retail is evolving and growing enough to rival traditional residential dining.

“We must meet and exceed the expectations of our guests,” said Dean Wright, dining services director at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “To do that we have to determine exactly what they want, but those expectations constantly vary.”

So what are some steps they take when attempting to build successful retail operations? Wright, who oversees 22 different retail outlets at BYU, said there are several rules he follows.

“The first step is to understand your customer and the next is to understand the limitations a location may place on you,” he noted. “You must also be creative; understand the flavors and atmospheres that enhance an experience. We always say that the customer doesn’t want to eat in a surgical suite. They don’t like sterile environments; they want fabrics and wall coverings that add a sense of excitement and purpose. Lastly, make sure all of the marketing, merchandising and promotions are tied together so there is continuity and a sense of purpose tied to the location.”

For Julaine Kiehn, director of campus dining services at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., it is important to maintain authenticity when creating an in-house brand, but at the same time it must be able to compete with any national brand.

“It definitely has to look and feel like a national brand,” she said. “Identifying the brand or image and staying true to it is key. You have to ask yourself what it is going to be as you develop the menu, the look of the restaurant and the type of service it will have. It’s really important to clarify that. Then, create and deliver on it.”

Kiehn, who supervises 15 retail stores and 6 residential dining facilities, identified customer satisfaction as the most important factor for success, but also suggested employing a little individuality, too.

“They want what they want when they want it,” she said, “but one thing we’ve learned is less is more. Give them more of what they want. Give them the items they really like more often and try less to be everything to everybody. Rather than providing a wide variety of the same thing in six different locations, narrow specific identities instead of offering cookie-cutter versions of each other.”

At Ball State University, in Muncie, Ind., Dining Services Director Jon Lewis said it is most important to provide a retail operation that fits with the equipment you have available and also not to get caught up in political causes, something that’s easy to do on a college campus.

“Each operation requires different equipment and that often dictates what you can and cannot carry,” he said. “If you don’t have the right equipment to make a sandwich or [implement] a prepared-to-order station, then you can’t provide that kind of stuff. At the same time, it’s also important to carry what the customer wants as opposed to what you think they want. It’s easy to get sidetracked by causes, like cage-free eggs, but if customers don’t want it, it’s just not worth doing.”

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
eggs

Loyola University Maryland took a new approach to all-day breakfast with an egg-focused concept.

Breakfast options were top of mind for students when asked what they would like to see on the menu at the university’s revamped Boulder Garden Cafe. Instead of creating an all-day breakfast station, however, the Baltimore-based dining team went beyond traditional options and created a concept that services all mealparts with eggs.

“It can be somewhat mundane,” says Executive Chef Don Crowther on why the team strayed away from the trendy all-day breakfast. At the eatery’s Sunny...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Kansas has added a retail pass that allows students to purchase one to-go combo meal per day at cafes and markets on campus, the University Daily Kansan reports.

The pass is available on two different meal plans and is geared toward on-the-go students who don’t have the time to sit down and eat at a residence hall.

“It has increased the participation rate,” Jamie Reed, a service assistant for the school’s dining services, told the University Daily Kansan.

Over 1,800 students have used the pass since its debut at the beginning of the semester....

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Minnesota dining team has created a vegan student group in an effort to improve the school’s vegan offerings, Minnesota Daily reports.

The group was created by the school’s foodservice vendor, Aramark, and its campus sustainability coordinator, who is vegan, after receiving numerous complaints from students about the lack of vegan options on campus.

The group will this week host its first meeting, during which members will be able to share feedback and provide solutions to help enhance the school’s vegan offerings. Members will also keep a photo journal...

Industry News & Opinion

Panera Bread Co. announced today that it intends to buy the Au Bon Pain brand as a way of opening more bakery-cafes in colleges, healthcare facilities, office buildings, travel centers and malls.

Au Bon Pain, which was Panera’s sole business under an earlier incarnation of the company, consists of 304 bakery-cafes. Several units are located in noncommercial venues.

Panera owns or holds the franchise rights to about 2,050 restaurants, few of which are located outside of strip malls.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Immediately after the deal was...

FSD Resources